Sting treats Nashvillle to Police favorites, solo hits and his own country classics...
A “Message In A Bottle” arrived on the banks of the Cumberland River Wednesday night.
That was the Police classic Sting picked to open an eclectic evening at Nashville’s Ascend Amphitheater - as part of the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer’s “My Songs” tour.
Donning leather pants, a T-shirt with the shortest sleeves modern science will allow, and a headset microphone (move over, Garth), Sting and his six-piece, multigenerational band weaved their way through a 22-song set.
The night included a generous handful of Police tunes, solo cuts that demonstrated his worldly influences, and a few tracks that reminded Nashville of the country music cred he’s picked up along the way.
Hasn't lost a step: At 70, Sting is in incredible form. On one hand, does that even need to be said at this point? The guy's been famed for staying in great shape for about as long as he's been famous.
On the other hand, it bears repeating at a time when a number of veteran rock vocalists - some older, some younger - are audibly losing their fastball. Sting lowered the pitch on a few of his oldest tunes, and you could hear the effort being made to reach the highest notes of “Roxanne," but by and large, he's hardly lost a step over the last 45 years.
This is still the “My Songs” tour, named for an album of reinterpreted favorites Sting released ahead of the pandemic. But as he waited years to get the show back on the road, he made a new original album, “The Bridge,” and pulled out several songs from it at Wednesday’s show - with fair warning.
“You had a few hits, right?” He said, taking a seat on a stool before his crowd could beat him to it. “Songs you can sing along to, get nostalgic? I'm gonna play some new songs, I'm sorry. But If you look at the small print of the ticket you’ve got in your hand, it will say, ‘He will play some new songs.’ You never know, they might be hits one day, right?”
It’s hard to classify a hit in the digital age, Sting noted, but here’s how he knew he had one in the old days: in his hotel room, he “was woken up by a man cleaning the windows outside, and he was whistling something that I recognized. He was whistling 'Roxanne.'"
After the third song in a row from "The Bridge," he asked the crowd with a smile, "That wasn't so bad, was it?"
Between songs, Sting recalled how a love of TV westerns like "Bonanza" and "Maverick" led to discovering country and western music, and delving into the Hank Williams and Buck Owens songbooks.
"Then, when I became a songwriter, I would often try my hand at the genre. But with me, there's a problem of authenticity, because I'm not from Nashville. I'm from the north of England. However, occasionally a bonafide country singer would cover one of my songs."
That started with Toby Keith's hit 1997 version of "I'm So Happy I Can't Stop Crying" - which Sting performed exclusively for Nashville on Wednesday. He followed it with "I Hung My Head," which Johnny Cash covered in 2002 on his final album released during his lifetime.
Another illustration of Sting's genre-spanning touch as a songwriter came with "Shape of My Heart," which was sampled by late rapper Juice WRLD on "Lucid Dreams." Sting and background vocalist Gene Noble blended the two songs at Wednesday's show.
After stacking "Roxanne," "Every Breath You Take," So Lonely" and "Desert Rose" into the final stretch, Sting took a bow with his band. But as they left, he took a seat.
"It's my custom to finish the evening with something quiet and thoughtful, so people can go home quiet and thoughtful."
In this case, it was the title track to "The Bridge," which certainly resonated on Nashville's riverbank.
"And now the city's all but drowned/ And here upon the ridge/ Some will seek the higher ground/ Some of us the bridge."
(c) Nashville Tennessean by Dave Paulson
Sting at Ascend Amphitheater in Nashville...
It felt like a night of celebration and a stroll down memory lane when Sting brought his My Hits tour to Nashville.
As the early crowd was trickling into Ascend Amphitheater, the evening started with a treat as Joe Sumner took the stage. While the name may not ring a bell off the top of my head, Sumner is Sting’s son, or as he jokingly called himself, “Just what this city needs, another guy with a guitar.” In his 30-minute performance, Sumner offered some easy-going tunes and some laughs to put the Music City crowd in a good mood. Like his father, Sumner also incorporated songs from his old band into the setlist, as Fiction Plane’s “Two Sisters” made it into the lineup.
While Sumner played a slower set, the speed picked up quickly when The Last Bandoleros took the stage. The three-piece group, originally from San Antonio, infused Spanish culture into their pop-rock sound, and it was an absolute treat to witness. The band performed a couple of cover songs in their set but added a mariachi band twist to them.
While it’s not the sound that the Nashville crowd was expecting, it was certainly welcomed. During the group’s final tune, aptly named “Every Time We Dance,” The Last Bandoleros encouraged the Nashville fans to dance. Several patrons accepted that invitation as it was a festive and fun way to close out the set.
It took only a few seconds for the hits to start coming when Sting took the stage to an enormous ovation. As he stepped into the spotlight, the opening notes of The Police’s “Message in a Bottle” rang out, and the Music City sang along to every word. It was a fun way to kick off the evening.
While a plethora of fan favorites were performed, there were also some newer tracks on the setlist. As Sting joked, “Sorry, the tickets should mention that there would be new songs being played.” But he also pointed out that those tunes could one day become a hit before asking the crowd how they define that term. “How do you even tell what a hit is these days? There are so many streaming services and different charts that it’s almost impossible,” Sting said. “Here’s how I define it; In 1978, we had our first single on the charts. I woke up in a hotel one morning to a guy cleaning a window outside. He was whistling something I recognized. He was whistling ‘Roxanne.’ Now that’s a hit. When working people are whistling your songs as they go about their day, that’s a hit.”
That led to the singer playing three ballads in a row as he sat on a stool for those performances. While it was a slower portion of the set, several couples capitalized on the opportunity and began to slow dance, maybe ensuring that those newer tunes do become hits.
Storytimes carried over later into the set, including when Sting detailed his love for old western TV shows and country music. Being from England, he felt like he didn’t have the authenticity needed to pull off the genre. However, he was tickled to death when both Toby Keith and Johnny Cash performed covers of his songs. That led to an impromptu performance of “I’m So Happy I Can’t Stop Crying” before he headed into “I Hung My Head.”
The remainder of the set was filled with songs from Sting’s solo career and his time with The Police. The singer included his newer tracks “Brand New Day” and the early 1990s tune “Shape of My Heart,” written during his Las Vegas residency. Next was back-to-back songs from The Police as “Wrapped Around Your Finger” and “Walking on the Moon,” which had the crowd dancing and cheering loudly.
The final three performances had at least 90 percent of the Nashville crowd on its feet and several phones up in the air as he led off with The Police’s “Every Breath You Take.” He followed that with “Roxanne,” which included a reggae twist. He joked midway through the tune that he had learned it had become a college drinking song as participants must take a shot every time the singer says “Roxanne,” which he says he bellows out 17 times during the tune. “Don’t try that at home, kids,” Sting joked. “Can you imagine 17 shots?” Immediately after stating that, he followed that with the reggae twist that named dropped Roxanne what felt like 15 additional times. Here’s hoping nobody was playing the drinking game.
As the backing band left the stage, Sting took a seat, closing the night on a slower tune, ending with “The Bridge.” “It’s my custom to close the evening with something quiet and thoughtful so that you can go home quiet and thoughtful,” Sting said. The singer waved to the Nashville fans as the track ended and was met with thunderous applause.
As the crowd was leaving the amphitheater, there were plenty of smiles. There were also many patrons who were hopeful that Sting would be making his way back to Music City as soon as possible.
(c) Loud Hailer magazine by Zach Birdsong